A cargo ship capsized off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia, some 80 miles south of Savannah in the wee hours of Sunday.

According to the updates by Coast Guard 20 out of 24 people aboard had been rescued. But four are still missing. The 656-foot ship Golden Ray became disabled in St. Simons Sound.

Capt. John Reed, Commander of Coast Guard Sector in Charleston told reporters Sunday afternoon that several people were rescued from the vessel at “multiple points.”

More rescue operations had to be paused after noticing the fire and black smoke on the ship. 

“As smoke and flames began to appear our crews ... assessed the situation was too risky to further go inside the vessel to attempt to locate the four individuals who remain missing at this time,” Reed said.

He said rescue work would continue once the ship is deemed safe.

It was at 2 a.m. authorities were alerted about a vessel listing, Reed added. Soon, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded. The capsized ship was carrying vehicles.

Difficult rescue operations

According to Coast Guard’s official Phillip VanderWeit, the rescue personnel arrived at the listing vessel around 3 a.m.

The distressed crew members had to be taken out through different parts of the ship said VanderWeit.

While a few were pulled into helicopters others were lowered into boats by a fire hose.

The majority of the crew members were lifted to safety around 4 and 5 a.m., VanderWeit confirmed.

Footage showed an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter hovering over the overturned ship.

The ship, sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands was supposed to reach Baltimore on Monday, per shipping news from MarineTraffic.com.

But the shipping companies have not been named in the reports. The crew included Filipinos and South Koreans.

The International Seafarers' Center in Brunswick provided food and clothing to the rescued crew members, Vicki West, the center's director said.

The cause of the accident is being investigated and an emergency safety zone has been established in St. Simons Sound. 

Other ships have been restrained from entering within a half-mile of the Golden Ray, the Coast Guard added.  As ships seek comply with the new fuel regulations the oil industry will need to make a major shift As ships seek comply with the new fuel regulations the oil industry will need to make a major shift Photo: AFP / Roslan RAHMAN

However, no environmental hazards from the shipping mishap have been detected as the cargo vessel is on its side in the water, added Cmdr. Norm Witt, in charge of Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit in Savannah.

‘Currently, I would say there is no active release of pollution,” Witt told reporters. Still, pollution mitigation strategies have been activated.

A swimming advisory has been issued for beaches in St. Simons and Jekyll Island, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, considering the potential environmental impacts.